Going native? Flower use by bumblebees in English urban gardens.
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BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Although urban gardens provide opportunities for pollinators in an otherwise inhospitable environment, most garden plants are not native to the recipient biogeographical region and their value to local pollinators is disputed. This study tested the hypothesis that bumblebees foraging in English urban gardens preferentially visited sympatric Palaearctic-range plants over species originating outside their native range. METHODS: Twenty-seven surveys of flower availability and bumblebee visitation (Bombus spp.) were conducted over a 3-month summer period. Plants were categorized according to whether they were native British, Palaearctic or non-Palaearctic in origin. A phylogeny of the 119 plant species recorded was constructed and the relationship between floral abundance and the frequency of pollinator visits investigated by means of phylogenetically independent contrasts. Differentiation in utilization of plant species by the five bumblebee species encountered was investigated using niche overlap analyses. KEY RESULTS: There was conflicting evidence for preferential use of native-range Palaearctic plant species by bumblebees depending on which plants were included in the analysis. Evidence was also found for niche partitioning between species based on respective preferences for native and non-native biogeographical range plants. Two bumblebees (Bombus terrestris and B. pratorum) concentrated their foraging activity on non-Palaearctic plants, while two others (B. hortorum and B. pascourum) preferred Palaearctic species. CONCLUSIONS: The long-running debate about the value of native and non-native garden plants to pollinators probably stems from a failure to properly consider biogeographical overlap between plant and pollinator ranges. Gardeners can encourage pollinators without consideration of plant origin or bias towards 'local' biogeographical species. However, dietary specialist bumblebees seem to prefer plants sympatric with their own biogeographical range and, in addition to the cultivation of these species in gardens, provision of native non-horticultural ('weed') species may also be important for pollinator conservation.
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